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Legal Information: Rhode Island

Rhode Island Divorce

Laws current as of
November 30, 2023

Below is basic information about divorce in Rhode Island. You will find more information about divorce, including the risks of taking your children out of state while a divorce is pending, on our general Divorce page. To watch brief videos about divorce in Spanish with English sub-titles, go to our Videos page. Lastly, learn more about the court process on our Preparing for Court – By Yourself page.

What are the residency requirements for divorce in Rhode Island?

The judge can grant you a divorce in Rhode Island if either you or your spouse has lived in Rhode Island for one year before filing your complaint for divorce. If you or your spouse is in the U.S. armed forces or merchant marines and had to leave Rhode Island for service, you or your spouse will still be a resident of Rhode Island during the time you or your spouse serve and for 30 days after that.1

1 RI ST § 15-5-12

What are the grounds for divorce in Rhode Island?

Grounds are legally acceptable reasons for divorce. A judge can grant you a divorce if you and your spouse have irreconcilable differences that have caused an irreparable breakdown in your marriage. Granting a divorce based on irreconcilable differences means that a judge can issue a divorce decree without considering either your or your spouse’s fault for the end of the marriage and without considering any claims of misconduct.1

A judge can also grant you a divorce based on a fault-based ground instead of irreconcilable difference, which include if your spouse:

  • is impotent;
  • cheats on you (adultery);
  • treats you with extreme cruelty;
  • deserts you for five years or a shorter period of time as decided by the judge;
  • habitually and excessively uses opium, morphine, or chloral;
  • neglects you and refuses to provide for you despite being able to; or
  • engages in any other “gross misbehavior” or “wickedness” that violates the vows of marriage - for example, sexually inappropriate or immoral behavior.2

1 RI ST § 15-5-3.1
2 RI ST § 15-5-2

Can I get alimony?

Alimony is financial support paid by or to your spouse and can be awarded when a divorce is granted. To decide the amount of alimony (if any) that will be awarded, a judge will consider your and your spouse’s:

  • length of marriage;
  • behavior during the marriage;
  • age and health;
  • job, skills, employability, and amount of income;
  • needs and debts;
  • custody responsibilities and ability to work outside of the home; and
  • ability to be self-supporting.1

In deciding whether you are self-supporting, the judge will consider:

  • any time either you or your spouse did not have a job because of homemaking responsibilities;
  • the time and money that would be needed to get education or training to get a new job;
  • the age and skills of you and your spouse;
  • the standard of living during the marriage,
  • any future possibility of getting income,
  • the ability to pay support, and
  • any other factors that the judge thinks are important.2

The purpose of alimony is to provide you with support while you get back on your feet, but a judge can grant you alimony for an indefinite period of time if s/he finds that it is appropriate to do so after considering the time and expense required for you to get the proper training and education to find appropriate employment.3

A judge may change the amount of alimony you receive if you or your spouse requests that the judge review the alimony decision. Before changing the alimony award, the judge must find that there is a substantial change in circumstances. If you remarry, your alimony award ends.3

1 RI ST § 15-5-16(b)(1)
2 RI ST § 15-5-16(b)(2)
3 RI ST § 15-5-16(c)(2)

What are the basic steps for filing for divorce?

While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps that a person may have to follow to obtain a divorce:

  • First, you or your spouse must meet the residency requirements of the state you want to file in.
  • Second, you must have “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end your marriage.
  • Third, you must file the appropriate divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse. (To learn more about filing a summons, preparing a petition, and service of process, go to the Starting the Court Case page in our Preparing for Court - By Yourself section.) For the exact rules for serving the papers in your county, contact your local courthouse or an attorney.   
  • Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, then s/he will have the opportunity to file papers telling her/his side.  In his/her response, the other party may express his/her opinion challenging the divorce, asking that it be granted under different grounds or letting the judge know that s/he agrees to the divorce.  If your spouse contests the divorce, then you may have a series of court appearances to sort the issues out.  Also, if a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway.  (Speak to a lawyer in your state about how long you have to wait to see if your spouse answers before you can continue with the divorce.)
  • Fifth, if there are property, assets, a pension, debts, or anything else that you need divided, or if you need financial support from your spouse, then these issues may have to be dealt with during the divorce or else you may lose your chance to deal with these issues.  The issues may be worked out during settlement negotiations and incorporated into the divorce decree or in a series of court hearings during the divorce.  Custody and child support may also be decided as part of your divorce.

You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?

Where can I find additional information about divorce laws in Rhode Island?

Rhode Island Legal Services provides this overview on the basic divorce process.

The Rhode Island Bar Association has a short page on how divorce law affects you.

The Rhode Island Judiciary (court system) has family court forms available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

WomensLaw.org is unrelated to the above organizations and cannot vouch for the accuracy of their sites. We provide these links for your information only.

You will find more information about divorce, including the risks of taking your children out of state while a divorce is pending, on our general Divorce page. To watch brief videos about divorce in Spanish with English sub-titles, go to our Videos page. Lastly, learn more about the court process on our Preparing for Court – By Yourself page.

Is there anything I can do if my abusive partner continually files court proceedings against me?

Abusers often misuse court proceedings in order to continue the abuse. This is called abusive litigation. If you are the victim of abusive litigation by someone who the court has already determined committed abuse, stalking, or sexual assault against you, you can ask the judge to issue an order restricting abusive litigation. See our Litigation Abuse section for more information on how to do this.